Review: The Goodbye Girl (1977)

Ever since I was a kid, I have been involved in theater.  My mother is an actress, playwright, and director, while my step-father is a violinist and a composer.  If you cut me, I would probably bleed paint thinner.  I think Neil Simon is a theatrical staple, what with his hits including the Sunshine Boys, the Odd Couple, and Barefoot in the Park.  He is certainly one of my mom’s favorite playwrights, and her zeal for him definately rubbed off onto me.  (Ignore the obvious innuendo there)

The Goodbye Girl was not originally a play (although Neil Simon is mainly a playwright), but in ’97 it was adapted for the stage, in fact, into a musical.  I have only seen the ’77 film with Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss.  Personally, I don’t think I need to see any other version.  Dreyfuss is spectacular.  Only he, as actor Elliot Garfield, could take nebbishness and turn it into “charisma,” at least according to Cynthia Fine (a very small character).  With his ruddy, ratty hair and awful beard, his high squeaky voice and sopping wet guitar case, Elliot waltzes into the film and sweeps the audience off their feet.  It takes Mason’s character, Paula McFadden, a little longer to fall for him, but it does happen eventually.

I’m a sucker for a glib sense of humor.  I don’t care if he is playing a ghastly cartoonish version of Richard III, if you can make me laugh, I’m hooked.  I think that’s what attracted me to this movie so many years ago.  Even when Paula’s character drives you up the freakin’ wall, the fact that she loves and appreciates Elliot as much as the audience does makes you root for her anyway.

This film is fun, funny, and totally quotable.  Simon writes the most natural dialogue I have ever heard or read, and I adore comedy that feels natural.  I hadn’t sat down and watched this for, oh, four years or so, not since my girlfriends all watched it in college, and yet I could still chant along with all my favorite back and forth lines.

I think I mostly love this film because it takes a rather old, worn-out story-line and spins it into gold.  It shows you that it isn’t a slick, shiny plot that makes a movie good…all it takes is some witty dialogue and likeable characters and, bang, you gotta an instant classic.  Inception and Avatar may have been hits, but do you think the characters have charisma?

The Goodbye Girl
1977
Director: Herbert Ross


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